Lee Hendee, a popular local and regional radio personality who once said he got into broadcasting because he became enamored with Hillsboro radio legend Willard Parr’s voice on WSRW, died Friday at age 66.
Hendee’s radio career spanned 50 years. He began working at WKFI in Wilmington, and then worked at WSRW in Hillsboro and WBZI in Xenia. Most recently, he was the owner and founder of WALH in Wilmington.
Hendee’s passion for radio got its start back in 1967 when he did reports for East Clinton High School, he told the Wilmington News Journal in a January feature story. But the big influence came when he heard a voice from Hillsboro on the radio.
“His name was Willard Parr and I’d hear him say, ‘La-Z-Boy chair.’ Just the inflection and tone of his voice, he had a great bass-baritone voice. The way he did that and the way he said ‘Hillsboro, Ohio’ made me think about doing broadcasting,” said Hendee back in January.
Parr told The Times-Gazette on Tuesday that Hendee worked at WSRW with him for “15 or 16 years.” He said Hendee was a “good employee and a good announcer.”
“He was just an old country boy, and he loved country music,” said Parr.
Hendee recently had back surgery and had returned to The Christ Hospital Friday, where he apparently died while undergoing a heart procedure, according to his friend Dennis Mattingly, who had spoken to a family member.
“I talked to him at seven o’clock this morning; he was back home and feeling good,” Mattingly said Friday.
Herb Day, former radio personality with WSRW, told The Times-Gazette that Hendee worked at WSRW from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s and was “a good man who had the same love and passion for radio and all things entertainment that he had for his family.”
Day said, “Lee possessed the enthusiasm of a child for his next project and gave it his all. Ironically, his new book on broadcasting and music is due to be released this week or next, a project he gave me the honor of contributing to.”
Day said he spoke with Hendee last week as he was being released from Christ Hospital just after his first surgery, saying he felt “much better.”
“You never know what tomorrow will bring,” said Day. “Lee was extremely good to me, my career and my family through the years, and I miss him already.”
Mattingly, who worked with Hendee at WALH, got to know him more than 50 years ago. Both graduated from high school in 1969 — Hendee from East Clinton and Mattingly from Clinton-Massie.
“We grew up on the same music and connected with that,” Mattingly told the News Journal. “We re-connected about five or six years ago. Lee was bound and determined to bring radio to Clinton County. He knew all the ins and outs, and the technical part, of a radio station.”
“He was the heart of that station,” said Wilmington City Council President Randy Riley, who was stunned to hear of Hendee’s death.
Riley met him 25 years ago when Hendee was “the voice of the Corn Festival.” He said when he heard Hendee’s voice come over the speakers he said to himself, “that guy had a great set of pipes.”
After they met, the two worked together for years helping with the Corn Festival’s Corn Olympics and continued to work at the radio station.
“He loved the community. He loved keeping the people informed,” said Riley. “He also loved people. He loved finding out what made people tick.”
Through the years, Hendee conducted more than 6,000 interviews and met interesting local residents, politicians and celebrities. He remembered one particular instance where he came across a country singer not as well-known as she would be later.
“There was a time when this car came up and it had a woman and a man and a gaggle of kids,” said Hendee in the January feature story. “They pulled up and the woman got out carrying a guitar — it turned out to be Loretta Lynn.”
Hendee’s wife, Anna L. Collins Hendee, survives. They were married Oct. 30, 1971. He is also survived by three sons and a daughter.
Funeral services will be at noon Friday, May 26 at the Reynolds-Smith Funeral Home, 327 N. South St., Wilmington. Friends may call from 5-8 p.m. Thursday, May 25 at the funeral home.
John Hamilton and Tom Barr of the Wilmington News Journal and Gary Abernathy of The Times-Gazette contributed to this story.